Before the coronavirus, wellness tourism was already booming. According to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), the industry was worth $639bn in 2019 and was growing more than twice as fast (6.5%) as tourism overall (3.2%), representing about one in six of all tourism dollars spent.

While holidays used to be a chance for travellers to indulge in the buffet and consume their bodyweight in alcohol, whether in a hotel or on a cruise, expectations have shifted somewhat over the past ten years. Now, more people are taking ownership of their health and well-being, and maintaining those routines even while they’re on holiday.

Over the past five years or so, since spiritual retreats started moving into the mainstream, this has expanded beyond the physical, with many holidaymakers seeking genuinely transformative experiences. The hospitality sector has reacted by better integrating health and wellness offerings – physical, mental and spiritual – into the hotel experience. Operators are offering healthier menus, jogging tracks, yoga and meditation classes, better equipped fitness facilities and even rooms designed with their occupants’ circadian rhythms in mind. And the cruise industry isn’t too far behind.

“In recent years, we’ve seen the on-land health and well-being industry really take off, and it continues to grow,” says Ben Bouldin, VP EMEA at Royal Caribbean International. “Across the globe, more and more people are increasingly aware of the importance of keeping fit, and living a healthy and active lifestyle; and people look to brands that will help them attain their goals.

“When it comes to holidays, while most see this as a time to recharge and indulge in good food, many also want to ensure they can do so without losing sight of their overall health and well-being.”

Maintaining healthy habits on board

When cruising resumes, Royal Caribbean passengers will still have the option to indulge, but there’ll certainly be no excuse not to keep up their healthy habits on board. There are healthy menu options at the dining venues, exercise classes including yoga, Pilates, boxing and spinning, state-of-the-art fitness centres including cardio and resistance machines, treadmills and ellipticals, and a running track that encircles the sports deck or the ship itself. Each ship also features a Vitality Spa, with treatments including detox wraps, healing cleanses and nutrition analysis.

“On top of this, there are countless ways guests can stay active on board our ships with a raft of on-board activities such as our Flow Rider surf simulators, the Ripcord by iFly sky diving simulators and not to mention Seaplex, the largest indoor active space at sea offering a full-size basketball court and dodgem cars,” adds Bouldin. Shore excursions include hiking, biking, kayaking, snorkelling, zip lining and rafting.

Smaller cruise lines like TUI Germany’s Mein Schiff fleet have also improved their health and well-being offering over recent years. They now offer a Ganz Schön Gesund – ‘Very Healthy’ – package, which includes use of many of the ship’s spa and sports facilities, such as saunas with panoramic sea views and exercise classes, as well as personal training and nutritional coaching.

In addition, the spa offers cosmetic and beauty treatments, as well as massages specifically developed to complement the cruise destination. TUI Cruises, which currently has three ships back in service, has also run themed fitness and yoga cruises in the past. “Of course, at the moment, we had to adapt the programme due to [the coronavirus] but, nevertheless, guests that want to focus on health and well-being will find the right offers to enjoy their cruise,” says TUI Cruises spokesperson Godja Sönnichsen.

Mindfulness, adventure and family fun

Just as spiritual retreats have taken off on-land over the past five years, mindfulness has become an important part of the cruise experience on a growing number of lines. Seabourn’s Mindful Living programme, developed in partnership with physician and bestselling author Dr Andrew Weil, is a fleet-wide wellness programme including complimentary yoga and meditation, daily lectures and discussion classes covering everything from mental health to nutrition. Crystal’s Mind, Body & Spirit-themed cruises offer a total wellness package led by yoga, Pilates and tai chi experts.

“When it comes to holidays, while most see this as a time to recharge and indulge, many also want to ensure they can do so without losing sight of their overall health and well-being.” Ben Bouldin, Royal Caribbean International

Operators have also integrated healthier pursuits into their shoreside activities. Oceania has no less than 60 wellness themed excursions – including hiking a glacier in Ushuaia, a resort town in Argentina, or taking tai chi in a Saigon city park – while Emerald Waterways has dedicated activity managers on all seven of its European Star Ships to boost its fitness options. These include a four-hour cycling tour along the Danube and a hike up the historic Buda Hill in Budapest.

Looking ahead, Bouldin sees family focused wellbeing becoming a greater area of focus for operators. “It will definitely continue to evolve at Royal Caribbean International – offering new, fun and innovative ways for families to create memories by trying new activities together,” he says, adding that Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas, Perfect Day At CocoBay, is a great example, with its beach club, ‘chill island’, lagoon and water park.

A wellness lifestyle at sea

Wellness programming is one thing, but one operator plans to go a step further. Set to launch in 2021, start-up wellness cruise line Blue World Voyages has thrown out the buffet the and traditional cruise ship entertainment entirely, and replaced them with two full decks of fitness equipment and spa facilities.

Blue World Voyages will also have the industry’s first VP of Wellness planning the on-board and on-shore ‘active lifestyle’ opportunities. There are even 40 permanent residences available to purchase for people who want to follow a wellness lifestyle at sea.

“A newly introduced early warning system […] gives us the opportunity to take preventive action as quickly as possible.” Godja Sönnichsen, TUI Cruises

According to co-founder Fredy Dellis, the brand wants to “create an atmosphere, on board and on shore, of people who have common interests in terms of getting regular exercise, looking for good food, but at the same time discovering new destinations.”

The ship will also have a seawater lap pool that provides docking for kayaks, the first ever for a cruise ship. It comes together in several pieces and can be installed in around half an hour when the ship is anchored and sea conditions are suitable.

“Wellness tourism burst into the consumer consciousness just a very few years ago, and it’s hard to grasp the speed of its growth and evolution,” said Katherine Johnston and Ophelia Yeung, senior researchers at the GWI.

“Wellness, hospitality and travel are now converging in unprecedented ways, from the ‘healthy hotel’ concept going utterly mainstream to airports, airlines, and cruises injecting so much wellness programming, to the profusion of ever-more-creative wellness destinations, retreats and tours.

“The wellness concept is transforming almost every aspect of the travel industry – and wellness tourism will only grow faster in years ahead, as it lies at the powerful intersection of two massive, booming industries: the $2.6trn tourism industry and the $4.2trn wellness market.”

Strict health and safety protocols

Of course, health and safety will come ahead of personal transformation over the coming months, as the sector works to encourage people back on board, when cruising (hopefully) resumes fully in early 2021. Those that have already started cruising in a limited way, such as TUI, hope to prove – through their new health and safety protocols – that it is possible.

As Sönnichsen explains, “The key points of the health and safety concept are the introduction of extensive additional preventive measures before, during and after the trip, avoidance of contact through extensive distance rules and guidance systems on board and additional hygiene and safety measures.

“Defined processes of medical care and emergency plans as well as a comprehensive training and safety programme for the crew are also part of the health and safety concept. The crew and staff of our on-board hospital has been specially trained in dealing with Covid-19. A newly introduced early warning system, which monitors the development of the body temperatures of guests and crew as well as other relevant symptoms, gives us the opportunity to take preventive action as quickly as possible. This is monitored by a specially appointed officer.”

Similarly on AIDA vessels, which will gradually resume cruising from early November, on-board medical care for all guests and crew is available around the clock. The ships are equipped with PCR-test-kits and diagnostic devices for the immediate evaluation of suspected Covid-19 cases and the medical team on board is trained in the relevant test procedures and treatment methods. Together with the responsible authorities, extensive processes have been developed to facilitate medical care, safe disembarkation, and a safe return home as quickly as possible for patients diagnosed with a confirmed Covid-19 case.

During past recessions, health and wellness has been an unusually resilient market. And with mental and spiritual wellness having come even more into the spotlight during coronavirus lockdown, it seems likely to emerge in tact again. While operators are currently focused on ensuring the health and safety of their passengers as the cruise industry ramps up again, the trend towards integrating wellness programming into the cruise experience is unlikely to turn around in the years to come.


Value of the global wellness tourism industry in 2019.
Global Wellness Institute


The growth rate of the global wellness tourism industry in 2019, compared with 3.2% for global tourism overall.
Global Wellness Institute